Coming out as asexual IRL for the first time

I always feel a bit torn when composing titles for my blog posts here. On one hand, SEO and good semantics dictate that my titles should be clear and descriptive of post content. On the other hand, that means really boring titles, like ‘coming out as asexual IRL for the first time’. But now you know what this post will be about despite the lengthy introduction!

Yesterday was an excellent and productive day: I attended class in the morning, had fun looking at phonetics and con-scripts with two guys instead of writing code, ate surprisingly good chicken and lots of cherry tomatoes for lunch, said something useful at a lab meeting full of postgraduates, hung out with someone, made a fool of myself bobbing along to live jazz in the evening, and made major progress in an upcoming magazine illustration. I also outed myself to said someone as both not-straight and asexual. The former was much easier than the latter, although I’d hinted very slightly at both in previous communications. 

So this post is about the hanging out part. I had coffee (well, a ginger tea for me) with a lady who taught me German for two weeks before I dropped the class – let’s call her R for the purposes of easy reference. We ended up talking for three and a half hours, which was fun because I enjoy talking to people, but very exhausting, especially because she:

  • talks a lot and can keep going, and
  • is extremely fannish

while I am neither of these things. I face the same problem with one of my main friend groups at school, and it doesn’t help that I cycle drastically between extraversion/introversion depending on physical state. Despite that, it was a thoroughly decent use of an afternoon, and I got a hug out of it at the end (which caught me off guard). I felt completely drained and overwhelmed afterwards, though, which unfortunately happens very often because despite my shyness I quite like chatting with people and put myself in situations where 120-minute talkathons can happen…

When I arrived at the coffee shop R was reading a book called Sexing the Cherry, which Wikipedia informs me to be a postmodernist work that heavily incorporates intertextuality. 

(My reaction to any fiction ever.) No, but after I read the blurb it seemed like a sexuality book. Just to be sure, I briefly flipped through it, and concluded that it was definitely a sexuality book.* Probably one of those books that reviewers describe as ‘powerful and honest in its exploration of sexuality and desire’ or something along those lines – lines that tend to make me feel like some essential part of the human experience is missing from me (which is something I almost never feel about my asexuality otherwise).

To be honest, whenever I see discussions of ‘sexuality’ in Serious Literature, a lot of it just reads as romantic or aesthetic or sensual attraction – things which I can understand and empathize with – except it eventually crosses over to some sort of activity involving nipples or genitals. (I’ve wondered a few times if maybe that feeling of empathy is, in fact, indicative of sexual attraction. Does sexual attraction require thinking about certain body parts? I don’t know. But my feelings seem neither as physical or as…basic, as instinctual, as the way discussions of sexuality seem to imply they should be.) Maybe it was Freud’s fault, because honestly, sex and sexual desire doesn’t seem to be much of a big deal to people when you observe them in regular non-sexual settings. But from time to time I get faced with a reminder that sex is a big deal to most humans, that sexual desire is a very strong motivator, that sexual acts or the lack of them can cause in most people the same depth of emotion as I feel about certain other things. Media, literature, my classes and professors even, keep telling me that sex is an integral component of life and love. The internet – which I consider to be a very telling reflection of human nature – is filled with anguished writings on sexual desire or sexual incompatibility and of course millions of ‘too horny to function, send help’ posts that seem genuinely distressed.

R mentioned liking postmodernist literature (and the author of this book, Jeanette Winterson) because of how it explored identity and sexuality without being a coming-out story. I wanted to say something about asexuality at that point, but my brain was still forming words, and the conversation flowed away to commenting on our environs as we left the coffee shop.

A while after R and I left the coffee shop, I brought the conversation back in a very inelegant fashion: while waiting to cross the street, I said ‘uh, so you mentioned liking postmodernism because it explores sexuality…’. (I need to work on my segues.) Accompanied by a lot of hand-waving to take the place of actual speech, I tried to explain how I enjoyed smutty fanfiction as much as anyone else, but sexuality seemed to be such a powerful theme in literature and human life, and how I could never really relate to that and…something, I fizzled out by this point. She replied that, well, sex was indeed very important to most people, so…

I tried to do this without talking about asexuality at first, but it was kind of impossible without creating a hypothetical asexual figure to talk about, so in the middle of it I said ‘I identify as asexual’.

Something I found interesting was that I felt very strongly asexual at that moment in response to the foisting of sexuality upon me (in the ‘most people’ part), so much that I didn’t add any of my usual qualifications about not being totally sure, maybe being demi but maybe not etc. The second thing I found interesting was how difficult it was to come out as asexual! I felt very similar to the way I felt before coming out (as not straight) to the ex-English teacher from home: unsure about its relevance to the conversation, worried that it would be weird, and incredibly hesitant to formally mark myself as ‘different’. But also wanting to let the truth out.

I think that the difficulty came about because being L/G/B (and hopefully increasingly, T) is pretty much mainstream and widely discussed and (at least around these parts) completely acceptable, while asexuality is not even talked about and hence has no chance to be perceived as normal. And being normal is important to me, at least, until I get assurance that it’s okay to not be. (Or even better, ‘what is normal anyway?’) Hey, as my friend A says, #collectivistcultureproblems.

I’m not sure why, but I got a very strong sense that R is a high-libido allosexual to whom sex and sexuality are very important. That’s completely conjecture, but because of it I felt like she might judge me harder for being asexual, or even take offence at my asexuality because it denied the legitimacy of her allosexual feelings (this part isn’t logical, I know). She didn’t, of course, and later on she talked quite a bit about hypocrisy in the LGBT community, sexuality being complicated, and asexual fanfiction.

Another more facetious reason for the difficulty might be that I, uh, like looking at girls with short hair and tend to get aesthetically attracted to people who present close to androgynous. R’s not ridiculously attractive** or anything, but is obviously lesbian and definitely on the masculine side of tomboy femme and…well. Uh. Although I concluded rather quickly yesterday that a relationship is so far off the table that it’s probably hiding under a sofa in the apartment of a bewildered insurance agent who lives four blocks down, I guess there was still some subconscious ‘I shouldn’t tell attractive people that I don’t feel a type of attraction that’s probably important to them’ type of thing going on.

I’d be interested in knowing what sorts of reservations other ace-spectrum people feel, if any, when letting other people know about your aceness. Let me know with a comment!

(As an addition to what I wrote above, I feel completely comfortable with the idea of wearing an asexual friendship bracelet (am in fact in the process of perusing YouTube tutorials to learn to make one) or a more standard rainbow pride bracelet, but actually saying the words ‘I am asexual’ out loud is difficult.)

* I don’t know if it’s actually a sexuality book. She recommended it quite enthusiastically, so I plan to read it (and Winterson’s other work, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit being the most famous) at some point.

** I was walking to the lab with my bro N a few days ago, and had to completely change the route we were taking because she’d caught a glimpse of a boy who was ‘extremely attractive’ and wanted to follow him. This friend also tells me gems like ‘intercourse is lots of fun’. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed sexuality much with her, but her random acts of sexual-ness amuse me to no end. She’s great.

  1. I can empathize. It seems like coming out would be easier if more people knew what asexuality is in the first place, so that I wouldn’t feel obligated to clarify everything about the definition. Even though I’m still questioning my romantic orientation, I’m also nervous about outing myself too early and miscommunicating that I would be uninterested in romantic relationships with anyone — which goes back again to the whole “clarify everything” problem (that you can date without sexual attraction, that you can experience aesthetic attraction without sexual attraction, etc.). And I’ve got a whole different round of complications because, being religious, I’m afraid folks will think one’s because of the other.

    • Argh, definitely! I feel you on the ‘miscommunicating that I would be uninterested in romantic relationships’ part, and I get anxious about that both when I let people know I’m ace (which I’ve done with a few school friends over chat) and when I signal myself as not being straight (which I feel like people just assume to mean ‘lesbian’, which I most definitely am not).

      That’s interesting about the religion thing – can you elaborate?

      • I should probably write a post about it at some point, since there’s so much to ramble about, but basically it comes down to already having a reputation as a narrow-minded, nerdy prude. Not only are there people who wouldn’t believe me, but I’m already too good at making enemies without giving people additional reasons for hostility. They’d think I’m either lying because of some errant radical Christian belief that all sexuality is wrong (or some childish religion-imposed discomfort with sex), or they’d think the main reason I’m drawn to Christianity is because it gives me an excuse to be elitist about my orientation and look down on allosexual people for having feelings that I don’t. The reasons for my orientation and my beliefs are pretty independent from each other, and it would invalidate a part of my identity if anyone thought otherwise. Yet I know, with most people, that it’s bound to cross their mind.

        • Wow, yeah, definitely write a post – I would read it! (let me know when you do)
          With regards to your first point, I’ve considered something similar before with regards to my cultural/family background (and will probably write about it at some point); the second thing about being drawn to Christianity because elitism etc. is something I’ve never heard before though, and would never have thought of. Has anyone ever actually said things like these to you? Or how do people usually react, if at all, to coming out as ace? R from my post had like, no reaction at all ahaha

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